Bemidij area women receive Bush Foundation Fellowship

Shirley Nordrum of Laporte and Jamie Arsenault of Bemidji are two of 24 recent Bush Foundation Fellowship recipients.

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BEMIDJI — Shirley Nordrum of Laporte and Jamie Arsenault of Bemidji are two of 24 recent Bush Foundation Fellowship recipients.

Every year, the Bush Foundation selects a group of individuals whose remarkable vision and drive are transforming communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 Native nations.

The Bush Fellowship provides Fellows with up to $100,000 over a span of 12 to 24 months to pursue things such as education, learning experiences and leadership training that will help them develop the skills and relationships to foster large-scale change in their communities and regions.

“Every year, the Fellows inspire us with their immense talent and even bigger ideas to make the region work better for everyone,” Damon Shoholm, grantmaking director for the Bush Foundation, said in a release announcing the grant recipients. “We’re thankful for the chance to support their growth as leaders and their bold thinking to create large-scale change.”

Shirley Nordrum

Shirley Nordrum
Contributed Photo

As a Red Lake Band member growing up on the border of International Falls, Nordrum spent a lot of time outdoors with her family and her father was an avid outdoorsman. From gathering maple syrup to picking berries, he was the one who grounded her in the outdoors. He also sparked her interest in environmental sustainability.


“When I was younger I remember when my dad was talking about the start of the Environmental Protection Agency and all that it was going to do,” Nordrum said. “I got really excited about that.”

From dropping out of school at a young age, being convinced to go back and later receiving her GED from Rainy River Community College, Nordrum spent a few more years in her hometown. She then pursued a degree in biology from Bemidji State University and was presented with an opportunity to start an environmental department for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and served as the director for 19 years.

Although she liked working in environmental regulation, an opportunity came along to work for the University of Minnesota Extension as an educator in water resources for tribal entities to discover science-based solutions, deliver practical education, and engage Minnesotans to build a better future.

“I was very interested in that, so I accepted that position and I still have that job, but my area of expertise has shifted from water resources to something more comprehensive,” Nordrum said. “I still work in natural resources and education, but it's more about a realm of traditions and our relationship to the earth, plants, and natural world. It's a blend of traditional ethnological knowledge and western science.”

Upon being asked why she got involved in her community, Nordrum says it’s a lifestyle, not a practice.

“In Anishinaabe, we are all related, every being, the trees, plants, animals and the people,” Nordrum said. “In that relationship, you have obligations and responsibilities. How could you not be involved? To not be involved would be to be disengaged from your relatives which is unhealthy, I guess it’s more of a way of living other than a practice.”

Nordrum plans to use the money from the Fellowship to go back to school to receive her master's degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth in tribal research and environmental studies to further her knowledge and keep helping those around her in her community.

“I have dreams of what I'm going to do in the future. I want to create alliances all across the Great Lakes and together, take a hard look at what is happening with the culture we live in, she said. “I’m excited to take this journey. I met the other Fellows and they’re such a powerful group of people I’m just happy to be among them.”


“That's how dreams are,” she added, “sometimes you just need a little help to make your dreams into a reality. ”

Jamie Arsenault

Jamie Arsenault
Contributed Photo

Working with the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Arsenault has a gift for the challenging work of repatriation, reconciliation and healing. In her work with Indigenous nations on repatriation of sacred items, preservation of the environment and reconciliation related to boarding schools, she sees the possibility for writing a new chapter of community wellness.

“Being able to assess and being able to learn from other communities and taking time to reflect on where we’re at and where we are going along with listening to what other folks have to say,” Arsenault explained. “I think a lot of the work that so many caretakers do is just putting out one fire and running to the next. There’s not a lot of time to assess how you did or if there was someone else that could have put out that fire faster or more efficiently, there's no time for that.”

Arsenault applied to the Fellowship wanting to engage people in conversations to develop actionable plans that promote individual and communal well-being.

She wants to lead this change by seeking moments of reflection while also talking with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals whose communities have taken action toward repatriation and reconciliation.

“I got to a point where I realized I hadn't had a moment to just slow down and learn from others,” she said. “Between where we are now in terms of repatriation, terms of addressing legacies of boarding school and some of the environmental issues going on. It's a moment to learn, reflect, listen and reassess. That’s why I'm doing this.”

According to Arsenault, the most important thing to her is addressing community wellness. Although it may be hard to look back on pain and past traumas, she believes they can be important teachers.

“Every community has its own set of struggles, whether its education, redlining or how racism impacts health,” she said. “Painful experiences do not define us, but they can teach us. It's so easy to forget sometimes but there is more to you than your trauma.”

Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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